Ranking the Top 5 Landing Spots for Anthony Rizzo in MLB Free AgencyDecember 23, 2021
Ranking the Top 5 Landing Spots for Anthony Rizzo in MLB Free Agency
After 10 seasons as one of the faces of the Chicago Cubs, it was strange seeing Anthony Rizzo wearing New York Yankees pinstripes for the final two months of the 2021 season after he was traded off in the Cubs' summer fire sale.
What uniform will he be wearing in 2022?
The market for a first baseman without any defensive versatility is inevitably going to be limited, and Rizzo fell short of All-Star-caliber numbers last year by posting a 111 OPS+ with 22 home runs and 1.7 WAR in 141 games.
Still, his long track record of success, the value he provides with both his bat and his glove, and his leadership abilities give him the potential to be an impactful addition.
Ahead we've ranked his five most likely landing spots. And no, Chicago Cubs fans, a return to the North Side is not among the most likely outcomes this offseason.
Away we go!
What Will Rizzo Be Looking for in Free Agency?
The Chicago Cubs signed Rizzo to a team-friendly seven-year, $41 million extension on May 12, 2013, and it wound up being a nine-year, $68.5 million contract after his 2020 and 2021 club options were exercised.
With 34.9 WAR, three All-Star selections, four Gold Glove Awards and a World Series title in 2016, Rizzo was a bargain throughout that contract, and now he's looking to cash in on the strength of that strong track record of production.
The 32-year-old reportedly turned down a five-year, $70 million extension offer prior to the 2021 season, but there have been no rumblings about his potential asking price since the offseason began.
He'll likely have to wait out the Freddie Freeman market and might be able to reel in a higher annual value if he's willing to accept a shorter deal.
The introduction of a universal designated hitter would also impact his market, as teams with an offensive-minded first baseman who profiles better in the DH role would suddenly be in the market to potentially add someone like Rizzo at first base.
5. Atlanta Braves
The No. 1 priority for the Atlanta Braves once the lockout is lifted is to re-sign homegrown superstar Freddie Freeman, and while the two sides have yet to come to terms on a new deal, there's no reason to believe one won't get done.
Still, until pen is put to paper, nothing can be assumed, and that's how the Atlanta front office has been treating things this offseason.
"It hardly qualifies as news that the Braves explored first base alternatives such as [Matt] Olson and free agent Anthony Rizzo in November while Freeman lingered on the open market," Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic wrote. "Freeman, at the moment, is not a member of their team. Braves president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos needs to do his due diligence, and make sure he can react quickly the moment he senses Freeman might depart."
If Freeman does wind up signing elsewhere, the Braves could immediately become the top landing spot for Rizzo with their window to contend still wide-open after last year's World Series win.
For now, their interest is nothing more than a potential fallback plan.
4. Miami Marlins
The Miami Marlins ranked 29th in OPS (.671) and 29th in runs scored (623) last season, so upgrading the offense in support of one of baseball's best young pitching staffs is undoubtedly at the top of the team's offseason to-do list.
They already signed Avisail Garcia to a four-year, $53 million deal, and they were recently linked to Michael Conforto, so they may not be done spending.
With Jesus Aguilar entrenched as the starting first baseman and Garrett Cooper also in the mix for playing time at the position, the Marlins may not seem like an obvious fit for Rizzo, but they could ramp up their pursuit on the other side of the lockout if the universal DH is implemented.
Aguilar is a passable defender at first base, but Rizzo would be a significant upgrade defensively if they were able to shift Aguilar into the DH role.
The Marlins also have an extremely right-handed-hitting lineup, with only Jazz Chisholm and young outfielder Jesus Sanchez swinging it from the left side among potential everyday players, which makes the left-handed-hitting Rizzo an even more attractive target.
If the DH comes to the National League in 2022 and beyond, expect the Marlins to be serious players for Rizzo's services.
3. Texas Rangers
Would anything be a surprise from the Texas Rangers at this point after they inked Marcus Semien to a seven-year, $175 million deal and then turned around and signed Corey Seager to a 10-year, $325 million pact the very next day?
They also added veteran outfielder Kole Calhoun (1/$5.2M) and right-hander Jon Gray (4/$56M) during that same 48-hour window, and if they are serious about turning things around and contending next season, there is more work to be done.
Nathaniel Lowe was one of the few bright spots on a 102-loss team last year, posting a 113 OPS+ with 18 home runs, 72 RBI and 2.4 WAR in his first full season in the majors.
However, he was a below-average defender (-3 DRS, -5.5 UZR/150) at first base, and he could easily slide into the starting DH role if Rizzo became a target. The oft-injured Willie Calhoun would then need to earn his spot in the starting lineup after playing just 75 games in 2021.
The Rangers are not only building a new roster with the hopes of contending, but they're building a new clubhouse culture, and Rizzo could be at the center of that as a veteran leader on and off the field who helps mentor their young up-and-coming players.
2. Los Angeles Dodgers
Max Muncy suffered an elbow injury on the final day of the regular season in 2021 that kept him out of action throughout the postseason, and it was revealed in late November that he actually suffered a torn UCL on the play that knocked him out of action.
"It's a little slow. I'm not recovering as quick as I would like," Muncy told Alanna Rizzo of MLB Network (via MLB.com). "But that's what happens when you do some serious damage to your body."
Signing Rizzo would give the Dodgers an insurance policy at first base, assuming they want to keep Cody Bellinger in center field, but he would be a fit for the team even if Muncy is fully ready to roll by the time Opening Day rolls around.
With Corey Seager gone and Trea Turner shifting to shortstop, the assumption has been that Gavin Lux will take over as the new second baseman. However, the team could just as easily use Muncy at second base, Rizzo at first base and Lux in more of a utility role after he expanded his defensive profile to include the outfield last year.
There are always a lot of moving parts on the Dodgers roster, and with Muncy capable of playing second base and third base, his presence on the roster is not a deterrent to the team potentially making a run at signing Rizzo.
1. New York Yankees
MLB insider Bob Klapisch reported in late October that Rizzo was "quite eager" to return to the New York Yankees in free agency after spending the final two months of the 2021 season in pinstripes.
Add to that the fact that incumbent first baseman Luke Voit was nearly traded at the deadline, according to Andy Martino of SNY, and it seems there is a clear path to Rizzo returning as the Yankees' starting first baseman in 2022.
Voit, 30, led the majors with 22 home runs while posting a 157 OPS+ in 56 games during the shortened 2020 season, finishing ninth in AL MVP voting. However, an oblique strain and elbow inflammation limited him to just 68 games this past year, and when he returned from the injured list his starting job was no longer waiting for him.
He was not shy about voicing his frustration with the team over being replaced, and that could yet lead to a trade this offseason, which would further clear a path to a reunion with Rizzo.
At this point, the Yankees still appear to be the most likely landing spot for Rizzo, but that could change based on the Freddie Freeman market and how teams react to the universal DH if it is in fact implemented for the 2022 season.
All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference.